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Flipping The Script: Jake Paterson

Jake Paterson wasn't the most talented surfer on the Championship Tour during his competitive years. He never won a world title like his greatest rival Andy Irons, but he was consistently beating Andy in big moments. (Though Paterson's most memorable win was actually at The Pipe Masters in 1998, a last second buzzerbeater victory over Andy's brother, Bruce Irons).

What Paterson lacked in raw, generational talent, he made up for in hard work and competitive prowess, which brought him to four Championship Tour wins in the late 90s and early 2000s. While he's been retired from competition for some time now, he's still traveling the world with the CT, coaching Griffin Colapinto, Kanoa Igarashi and Ezekiel Lau, as well as a crop of QS hopefuls.

We caught up with Paterson on his way to the Azores for the World Masters Championships, to hear about his year in coaching, and get his thoughts on his return to competition for the first time since 2011.

Jake Paterson won the trials. While his career highlights came at J-Bay, Paterson is a proud West Australian, which is why competing at Margaret River was always a blast. Jake, Circa, 2011. WSL / Steve Robertson

It's been quite some time since you were a full-time competitor on the Championship Tour. Have you done any competing since those days?
A little bit, but not much recently. Traveling and coaching takes up most of my time. But I was actually in the World Masters last time it ran in Brazil, back in 2011. But I think they've changed the age divisions up since then. Apparently I'm the youngest one in the batch this year.

How did you go in that event?
Oh, terrible. No good at all [laughs].

What do you consider your greatest competitive accomplishment?
Winning the Pipe Masters in 1998, for sure. That was my first CT win, so it was pretty big. I ended up winning four CT's - two at J-Bay, and then at Sunset and Pipe. Some guys go through their entire career without winning one of those things, so I'm proud of that.

For my ability, I was just a workhorse. I'm happy with how I ended up.

Jake Paterson wins in 2001 During Jake Paterson's CT years, he nabbed two consecutive wins at Jeffrey's Bay (here in 2001). WSL / Tostee

Who was your biggest rival during those years?
Andy [Irons], for sure. He brought the best out of me. Both my wins at Sunset - once as a QS and one CT - were against Andy. He elevated my game, and I frustrated the shit out of him. He knew that he surfed way better than me, but I always rose to the occasion, and that pissed him off a bit [laughs].

At this event in the Azores, who do you most look forward to competing against?
I always enjoyed competing against Sunny [Garcia]. Him and Dave Macaulay. Dave was my mentor when I first came on tour. Definitely looking forward to getting a chance against those guys again.

What sort of waves do you expect to get over there? Are you looking forward to putting the jersey back on?
I've been there a bunch of times for the QS. It's a fun wave. It's a beachbreak, but there's a wedgy left that bounces off this cliff face. It doesn't tube, but it's super rippable. It's got a lot of punch.

I can't wait to compete again. I'm going to the QS in Portugal straight after to coach, so the timing for me to surf in this event is perfect.

Jake Patterson Jake Paterson competing as a QS at the 2013 Margaret River Pro. WSL / Kelly Cestari / ASP

Speaking of coaching, did you always know you wanted to get into that after you retired?
It just kind of happened that way. I retired, and then I ended up working for Quiksilver in Bali for a couple of years, but that job was an eye opener after all my years on tour [laughs].

After that, I got the opportunity to help coach Leo Fioravanti when he was super young, and then I helped Julian [Wilson] qualify back in the day when he was with Quiksilver, and from there it all just kind of fell into place. I knew I had a lot to offer, because during my days I relied on my smarts to compete. So it works out that I can spread that knowledge with the super talented guys that I coach.

Griffin [Colapinto] is the perfect example. He's one of my best students that believes everything I say and then goes out there and nails it. He trusts what I tell him. Same with Kanoa, Leo, Zeke ... they know all the hard work I put in back in my day. They know I've already done all the losing. I've been there. I know what not to do. So I just try to pass all that knowledge along, and hopefully help fast-track their careers.

Coach Jake Paterson (AUS) at the 2018 Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, Ca. Coach, Jake Paterson (AUS), at the first-ever Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, CA. WSL / Kenneth Morris

How does seeing your students have success compare to having success of your own?
Oh, it's unbelievable. It's like winning myself. Like the US Open this year, when I had both of those guys [Griffin Colapinto and Kanoa Igarashi] in the final, it was such a good feeling. Although I hate when my guys come up against each other, when it's in the final, it's OK. Because that's the goal.

But on the flipside, you have to take all the losing with it. At Margaret River this year, I had three guys lose three heats in a row. Zeke, Kanoa, Griff. Bang, bang, bang. It was one of the worst coaching days of my life. They [the surfers] take it hard, but I take it just as hard, because I put so much into it.

Snaketales has taken on a life of its own. Did you ever expect it to get this popular?
Not really at all. It all started because I think video is huge part of learning for these guys, and really helps fine-tune their technique and strategy. It's the best way to learn, when you can see it again.

When I'm with those guys, we have such good time, and it's so funny. They're all unique individuals, and I just figured since I'm already videoing all their free surfs and all their heats, I might as well do a little iPhone footage and edit it all together. I just wanted to make it raw. And make it real. And it's worked out pretty well. It has a full cult following now [laughs].

The comfort they have with you, and with each other, definitely brings out their on-camera personalities, which is really cool. It feels like you're there.
That's what I think pro surfing needs. You only get to see them in post heat interviews, giving stock standard answers about taking it one heat at a time and out here doing my best [laughs].

Ramzi [Boukaim] for instance. He's such a funny character and all the grommets love him. But they wouldn't know that otherwise, because he's such a quiet person in big groups of people.

Getting back to the Azores. Is this a light-hearted, fun reunion for you? Or are you taking it as serious as you would a CT event during your days on tour?
Oh, I've been training since I got the invite. I dropped four kilo's and ordered a bunch of new boards [laughs]. I'm taking it lighthearted, but I'm definitely taking it serious - I don't want to go out and embarrass myself. Plus, there's good money, and a world championship, at stakes.

Coach Jake 'The Snake' Patterson of Australia (centre) imparting wise words to his young charges Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii (left) and Kanoa Igarashi of the USA (right) during Round Two at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro at Main Break, Western Australia. Jake Paterson imparting wise words to Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii (left) and Kanoa Igarashi of the USA (right) during Round Two at the 2017 Drug Aware Margaret River Pro at Main Break, Western Australia. WSL / Kelly Cestari
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